2023 Guide to Diamond Color Scale [+Diamond Color Chart]
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Color Scale

What are the ranges of diamond color, and what do they mean? Here's what you need to know about the GIA diamond color scale.

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What Is Diamond Color?

It is often assumed that diamonds are completely clear. But since diamonds have trace elements in them, they can have subtle colors. While color is one of the 4 Cs that jewelers use to rate diamonds, the color is more about rarity and quality. Completely colorless diamonds are the rarest, which makes them valuable.

As diamonds come from the ground, they usually have yellow, brown, or gray colors because of the impurities they pick up in the earth. These diamonds are rated based on hue, tone, and saturation, and the diamond color scale includes those factors.

Diamond hue includes the stone's actual color - for example, white, yellow, pink, brown, or blue. A gem's tone is the degree of color, from light to dark. Finally, saturation is the color's depth and intensity. Colorless diamonds do not have saturation. Instead, they have fire and brilliance.

What Is The International Color Scale?

The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) developed the International Color Scale to bring consistency in labeling diamond color. This scale addresses color and clarity with a jury system that evaluates every diamond. The five-person jury must unanimously agree on the grade for the diamond to receive GIA certification.

The official GIA scale measures the color hue in white diamonds using letters ranging from D to Z to measure the degree of yellow, brown, or grey in a stone. To showcase color flaws, gemologists evaluate the color by placing diamonds face down on pure white paper. Diamonds with a D rating must be icy white and colorless, while those with a Z rating have a yellow hue. Usually, diamonds with an N to Z rating are not used in jewelry.

International Color Scale

Diamond Color Grading & Diamond Color Chart

At Brilliant Earth, we carry colorless and near-colorless diamonds because they show the most brilliance and fire. While colorless diamonds are rare and exquisite when set against lustrous white gold or platinum, nearly colorless diamonds are also a brilliant choice and can offer a great value.

Colorless Grades

When looking closely at diamond colors, the distinctions within categories can be difficult to see. The colorless grades are D, E, and F. However, the subtle distinctions can reflect the quality of the diamond and its price.

The grading system begins at D because the GIA had older grading systems that used the first three letters of the alphabet along with Arabic and Roman numerals. To have a novel grading system, GIA started with D. Despite this being an unusual letter to begin a rating system, diamond buyers have become accustomed to it.

Diamonds that earn a D, E, or F grade are totally colorless. Only an electric colorimeter would distinguish the subtle differences. Customers cannot tell the differences between the three colorless grades, as none of them have any distracting or unwanted yellow or brown hues. The prices on colorless diamonds are relatively similar, regardless of the D, E, or F grade.

Near Colorless Grades

Near colorless diamonds are graded between G and J. They have a warmth to them, but any color is difficult to see unless they are next to colorless diamonds. The G diamond is one of the most popular near colorless grades because it has the least amount of color and is inexpensive when compared to colorless options.

H diamonds are the first to have a noticeable hue, as the subtle yellow tone starts to become visible to the naked eye. The I and J diamonds also have a yellow tone, but the colors are even more evident than the H tone.

Faintly Colored Grades

Faintly colored diamond grades are between K and M. These have a subtle yellow hue, which is popular with people who like yellow. Faintly colored diamonds are less expensive than colorless and nearly colorless diamonds. The popularity of faintly colored diamonds is growing as customers like the subtle, unexpected color with the hardness and durability of diamonds.

  • K Color
  • L Color
  • M Color
d Absolutely colorless or icy white. The highest color grade—extremely rare and most expensive.
e Colorless. Only miniscule traces of color can be detected by an expert gemologist—a rare, high quality diamond.
f Colorless. Slight color detected by an expert gemologist, but still considered a “colorless” grade—a high-quality diamond.
g Near-colorless. Color noticeable when compared to diamonds of better grades, but offers excellent value.
h Near-colorless. Color noticeable when compared to diamonds of better grades, but offers excellent value.
i Near-colorless. Slightly detected color—a good value.
j Near-colorless. Slightly detected color—a good value.

Diamond Color Scale

Variety of fancy-colored diamonds.

What are Fancy-Colored Diamonds?

Typical diamond colors include yellow, brown, pink, and gray and are included in the GIA scale. However, some yellow and brown diamonds with hues that extend beyond the Z rating on the GIA scale are considered fancy-colored.

Fancy-colored diamonds have their own scale, as they come in colors outside of the normal color range. While incredibly rare, fancy-colored diamonds come in all colors of the rainbow. Even white diamonds can be fancy, especially if they have an opalescent sheen instead of the typical clarity found in a white diamond.

Often, fancy-colored diamonds come from labs. They have the same quality, durability, and hardness as a natural diamond. Lab grown fancy-colored diamonds are less expensive than mined-colored diamonds. However, they can be more expensive than white diamonds because of their rarity.

How Diamond Color Affects Price

Minor color differences can affect the price of a diamond when it reaches retail stores, especially if the color is visible to the naked eye. Diamonds with subtle bits of color are more common than completely colorless diamonds. Colorless diamonds are more valuable because they reflect more color, have more brilliance, and are rarer.

Color variances, even within grading scales, can change the value by 10% or more. Sometimes, a tiny color flaw can affect the price by hundreds or thousands of dollars, especially when factoring in the carat, cut, and clarity, too.

White gold halo oval diamond engagement ring.

How Diamond Shape Impacts Diamond Color

The shape of a diamond can show off a color flaw or completely hide it. The cut or shape can increase the brilliance as the facets reflect color rather than showing any imperfections in the diamond itself. If the diamond has a color in it, that color will filter the brilliance and reduce the fire that draws so many people to diamonds in the first place.

Generally, the round, brilliant diamond hides color better than any other cut. They have numerous small facets, which diminish the underlying color. Diamonds with broad facets - like emerald, oval, or pear - show more color.

How Ring Settings Impact Diamond Color

Ring settings can impact the color of a diamond. When diamonds are colorless or nearly colorless, their brilliance becomes more noticeable in platinum or white gold settings. The silver tint of the setting helps the stone show off its white hue.

Stones with a faint color, with grading beyond J, look better in traditional yellow gold settings. The yellow gold calms the yellow hue of the diamond, as the stone looks to take its coloring from the gold in the setting. With a gold setting, diamonds with higher grades look like they could pass for nearly colorless.

How Carat Size Impacts Diamond Color

Carat size can also impact the diamond’s color. Since the color is usually within the diamond, a larger diamond tends to show its color better than a smaller one. If you put a two-carat J diamond next to a half-carat J diamond, the larger diamond will look like it has more color in it.

Combining the carat and setting can also hide the color, especially in a smaller diamond. If you plan to buy a large diamond, consider buying a stone with a higher color rating. But most importantly, choose the diamond you like at a price you feel comfortable with.

Diamond Color Scale FAQs

The best color scale for diamonds is the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) scale with ratings between D and Z. Since five people assess the color, consumers know they are getting an accurately rated diamond.
The best color is the one you like the most. However, when it comes to the diamond color rating scale, the best color letter is D. This rating shows consumers that the diamond is colorless with beautiful brilliance and fire. It is also the rarest of the colorless, white diamonds.
The most valuable diamond color is red because they rarely occur in nature. White diamonds with a D grade are the rarest and most valuable. Other valuable diamonds are purple, blue, orange, and green, as they are also rare.
Diamond color refers to the natural color of the diamond and will affect how light passes through. Diamonds with less natural color will pass through more light and allow for more brilliance and fire.